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Many see bit parts as golden 'Pirates' roles

By Mike Gordon

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 04:04 a.m. HST, Jun 20, 2010



Landing a part on Disney's new "Pirates" sequel, whether to speak or blend into the background, has become a glittering treasure for a lucky few in Hawaii's acting ohana.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" has generated more than a few "arghs" since Disney announced in January that it would film the fourth installment in the wildly successful series this summer on Kauai and Oahu. State officials expect the film to pour $85 million into the Hawaii economy, but it's also a production that looks great on an actor's IMDB resume.

And besides, who wouldn't want to work on a movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Johnny Depp?

Interest hit a fever pitch in April when filmmakers held a "cattle call" casting session in Waikiki for extras, doubles and stand-ins with a look worthy of circus freaks.

Thousands of people showed up to show off missing limbs, bulging noses and whatever pale, emaciated look they could muster.

Filming began last week and the pirates-in-waiting like Rolf Burton are anxiously waiting for a phone call.

"All the pirates have day jobs and regular lives," says Burton, a former chemist turned aspiring actor. "We are all just kind of waiting for the call to transform into pirates."

There's no guarantee his phone will ring or even that he'll get more than a day of work if it does ring, so it's nerve-wracking to wait, says Burton, who was on the crew of ABC's "Lost" for five years.

Burton made the initial cut from those who showed up at the cattle call, despite the fact that he has all his teeth. He credits his shoulder-length hair and beard.

Acting experience wasn't necessary to be a "Pirates" extra, but if he wants to succeed on screen, he'll need a certain mind-set, Burton says. "As background, you are background, and they want you to really look like the scene," he says. "Even though you are in the background, you have to think, 'How can I be as real as possible?'"

Of course, the glittering gold in a movie with some of Hollywood's biggest stars - Depp, Penelope Cruz and Geoffrey Rush - is the opportunity to speak on camera.

Some got the chance.

Ned Van Zandt, a veteran actor who divides his time between Kailua and Los Angeles, auditioned in April for the part of a "craggy British pirate" but didn't make the cut.

Director Rob Marshall told Van Zandt he was going "authentic British" but also asked the actor to help with a table read - that's when everyone in the cast gets together and reads through the whole script.

The actors read their lines, and Van Zandt read everything else, from "exterior, London, fade-in" to action sequences. Six other Hawaii actors also were asked to read, he says.

It's tricky.

"You have to be nimble, and you have to be a service to the script and to the actors," he says. "It was quite a task. It was me talking for three hours."

But the experience, earlier this month in the ballroom of a Lihue hotel, was special, reports Van Zandt, whose acting credits stretch back to the mid-1970s and include Broadway, film and TV.

"In terms of fulfillment, I got more out of doing a table read than being a bit player," he says. "I got to work with Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, the whole cast. Had I been another face on a British ship, chances are I wouldn't have that experience."

 

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. His "Outtakes" column appears Sundays. E-mail him at mgordon@staradvertiser.com.






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